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Advice for peer reviewers -- a Q&A with Ana-Maria Florea

This post continues a series of guest pieces and interviews by experienced peer reviewers on advice and insights for early-career reviewers.

Ana-Maria Florea is a Principal Investigator and Senior Scientist at the Institute of Neuropathology, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf. Ana-Maria has completed 107 reviews for 22 different academic journals over the last couple of years.

We recently asked Ana-Maria for insights to share with early-career researchers who are new to peer review.

At what stage does an early career scientist become qualified to peer review?

In my opinion, a scientist qualifies to review a manuscript when he/she has worked for at least 2 years in the same area of expertise as the authors of the manuscript, and his/her review is supervised by an experienced scientist. As an independent reviewer, the best would be that the scientist already has a PhD and has written and published a manuscript.

Any tips for how these scientists might get noticed by editors for the first time?

Yes: publish, publish, publish.

When should a reviewer reject a review invitation?

One should reject an review invitation when he/she (1) is not an expert in the field, (2) does not feel comfortable reviewing the manuscript, (3) does not have time to review the manuscript in details, (4) there are conflicts of interests with the authors, (5) will not give the reviewer comments in the time frame given by the Journal.

Following on from the above, do you have any rules of thumb for how many review invitations you accept per month?

Younger scientists should take maximum 1-2 invitation per month, the more experienced reviewers can do more.

How do you go about reviewing a manuscript?

First, I read the abstract to see if I can review the paper, if my expertise is sufficient to judge the manuscript. If yes, then I would accept to review the manuscript. Then, I would go to the journal web page and read the instructions for reviewers, check if the manuscript fits in the journal format, if references are standardised. After that, I critically read the manuscript, taking personal notes on strong and weak points of the manuscript, the English language style and grammar, check previous publications of the authors and of other authors in the field to be sure that the results were not published before, evaluate the introduction if it is complete and the methods if there are any mistakes, but also check in details of the presented results and their discussion, etc. When I have a clear opinion about the manuscript I write down my comments split in major concerns and minor issues, I give specific recommendation for changes in the manuscript that the authors can do, and I give my recommendation to the editor.

How much time do you typically devote to reviewing a single manuscript?

Good and bad manuscripts are easy to review because, as an expert, you can easily form an opinion; more time is required for middle-quality manuscripts, but also to complicated manuscripts that are published in high impact journals. Usually the Journals give you a time-frame that is between 7-14 days.

Do you ever sign your name to your reviews?

No, and I think the reviewers name should stay secret, just for the objectivity.

Any other tips for less experienced peer reviewers out there?

Please stay impartial and give constructive suggestions that can improve the quality of a manuscript.

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